Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Death and Resurrection-- What the World Needs and Seeks

Reflecting on the events of this weekend has taken some time, but now that the wounds have scabbed over and I have gotten some rest, I can see in better perspective the powerful Hope and Call of the events that I have just witnessed.

Grace Presbytery gathered ready to fight on Saturday morning-- I know because I seemed to always be crossing the road when one of those loaded on a mission roared up and ran over me. But standing with them, insisting I would not fight, but I would not run, slowly they all-- left and right-- ground to a halt and noticed that those weren't speed bumps that they had been thumping over. They were people-- left and right.

The vote went as it did-- and facebook friends, please be clear, my hurt was not the result. My hurts came from being run over before the vote ever happened. And they were worth it-- because by allowing them to hit me, I forced them to see me as a person. Because they hit me, they went into the room less willing to hit each other. The hurt was more than worth it.

We shall have to deal with each other as brothers and sisters. If we cannot do that, we do not deserve to survive as a part of Christ's Body-- if we cannot love our brother and sister whom we can see, how can we possibly love the God Whom we cannot see? What is destroying the PC(USA) is an unbridled willingness to treat each other as things. This is not the church. Means determine ends in the economy of Christ-- and the means which we have used these 30 years, no matter who was winning and who was losing, lead to one end-- death.

Sunday night, Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church was packed to the ceiling-- not a seat left empty in the sanctuary-- balcony full-- parking lot full. People had come from miles away to hear one thing-- the witness of 34 women at the closing worship service of Oak Cliff Great Banquet #18. They heard one woman confess her faith in Christ for the first time, many who had let go of burdens, and all of whom had been born again into a life full of hope by Christ's rising from the dead, and His risen presence through the power of the Holy Spirit. They stood before us different people than they had been just 72 hours before. And the world was beating down the door to see it.

One day, I hope and pray that when Grace Presbytery meets, the world make take notice for the same reason-- as Tertullian said the Roman world took notice of us: "see how they love one another." We will not solve our differences. We must learn to die to self, to rise in Christ, and live with our differences. Saturday, I hope Grace Presbytery began to learn how to become the Body of Christ again. Sunday night, Christ animated a group of women and the world saw and heard Christ speak in power. Arise, bridegroom of Christ. Arise, shine, for thy Light is come!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What Is the Middle Way?

I stand in a place few would envy, advocating for a position most reject. I believe I truly stand in the middle, advocating a middle way. For my conservative/evangelical friends, this means I am a traitor; for those on the progressive/liberal side, I may be a "useful idiot," as Lenin called capitalist traders.

I believe that I am neither-- and that there is a true middle way through the bloodbath that we have endured for these 30years. That middle way is not a "harmonizing" that the pollyanna optimists of 1978 thought would happen-- it is a combination of two mutually contradictory truths:

I cannot agree that homosexual practice is not sin.

I cannot agree that those who believe that homosexual practice is not sin are not my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The poverty of the PC(USA) shows in our need to control and understand outcomes. We too often are functionally atheistic, making our determinations on what we analytically deduce without leaving room for the God for Whom nothing is impossible. I wait for that God-- in the middle.

I stand in the middle, reaching out to those who disagree because Christ calls me to; I will not move from the middle, because Christ called me there. The middle way is not a shrugging "I don't know" but a determined holding on to the stranger in Christ. It is the place of crucifixion, not a safe seat with those who have power to crucify.

The middle way is the way of suffering. William Sloane Coffin years ago said that Christ was not on any side of any war-- He was in the middle, and every bullet and shell tore through His body before it reached its intended target. The middle is the place of witness to a Way the world cannot understand, Truth beyond my comprehension, and Life that no suffering on this earth can destroy.

I stand in the middle, ready to speak the truth as I understand it in love, ready to listen to what is said to me-- and ready to stand there even if I do not, or cannot agree. What an opportunity we have wasted in these 30 years to be a witness to this my-way-or-the-highway culture! Whatever the rest of the PC(USA) does, I will not let the opportunity go by anymore. I love you, brothers and sisters hurt by the decisions of this Body. I cannot agree with you, but I recognize that I cannot be the witness Christ has called me to be without you. If beating on me will assuage your anger, have at it. I accept that as the cost of standing where I stand. But I can do no other, God help me. I will not leave. I love you as Christ has loved me. I will not move.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Living in a Changed and Changing Culture

Last night, as the plane I was in was making its final approach to DFW, we entered a cloud bank. I was looking out the window, looking at the ground, and then all of the sudden a grey/white opaqueness blocked my sight. The water vapor was moving in a thousand directions; there was no fixed point of reference to cling to. As I kept looking, I realized I was starting to get motion sickness, and stopped looking out the window, and looked straight ahead to remind myself that the plane was not moving with the clouds, but through them.

As the exponential pace of change continues to accelerate in our culture in this time, a lot of Christians are getting motion sickness. We are scanning for a horizon that can't be seen through clouds whose movement seems to deny a coherent direction or purpose. The one sense that we have always used to guide us is leading us astray.

We Presbyterians are proud of our education: one of the best lines of A River Runs Through It is when the pastor/father's prejudices against other Christians are exposed: Norman narrates that "my father said that Methodists were Baptists who could read." We talk of the mind-- we worship the products of the mind-- we are always looking for the "new idea" that will improve every situation and reinvent humanity.

But the mind is easily fooled by too much information. When ideas are flying a thousand different directions and there is no fixed point of reference, it is possible to think to the point of sickness. It amazes me to think that I have already lived through three technological worldshifts-- and the last two were only a decade or so apart. How do we maintain our sense of who and Whose we are?

We cannot think our way out of our current muddle; when we stumble in our relationship with Christ, we think ourselves deeper into the morass. The only way out is to obey-- to do what we are commanded to do, whether it makes sense or not, whether we fear the consequences or not. Do the duty that lies nearest.

So, I love Christ and I choose to trust my brother/sister who says they love Christ, too-- even though I may not be able to make sense of that. I choose to look to Christ Who has me under His wing, and Who is setting the course and speed for my life-- even when I like neither what I see of the destination nor what I perceive of the speed.

My college professor used to say that faith is a way of knowing. The psalmest heard it better from the Source:
"Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted in the heavens; I am exalted in the earth." The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Murder in the Cathedral

Every now and again, events occur which should focus our attention. Three articles, one in the Christian Science Monitor, one in USA Today, and one from Barna Research all have such a common resonance with the events of this Sunday, that Fred Winters's death may echo with as much significance as Thomas a Becket's. Becket's death came to be seen as the perfect expression of the end of the Church's domination of political power in the Roman Catholic west; Winters's death may herald the end of the Church's place as a publicly respected and privileged, "safe" institution in American society.

It's been coming for a long time-- it is a wonder that we didn't see it (a lot like the mathematical geniuses who brought us credit/default swaps didn't see what was coming.) We have raised two or three generations in Materialistic Therapeutic Deism, which promotes the ideas that belonging to Christ means being nice to people, putting in time and effort to stay awake in worship, and being happy; and that God is our Cosmic Jeeves to provide us means to those ends. The Monitor piece lays out the reasons for the evangelical collapse with devastating simplicity-- but the best line is this: We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

Warren Buffett says that the economy has fallen off a cliff-- perhaps the Church has fallen off a cliff, too. Maybe for both it was about time. We can't pass on a prosperous economy to our children if we never say no to our appetites, and save; we can't pass on a faith relationship with Jesus Christ without suffering anything for being willing to say something.

It is time to see some horrible truths: that this culture now sees Jesus Christ as a promoter of hate; that they see that hate as centered in churches, personified by pastors; and the most important fact-- they see NO DIFFERENCE between Baptists at worship and Unitarians at worship (remember the shooting in Tennessee?). We are all seen as the same target, no matter how many times we have anathemetized each other. Church is church is church, and all of it is bad.

In both falls, there is a rising, but rebuilding is long and slow. I saw a commentator asked when we would return to valuations that we last saw in 2000, and the commentator suggested that values would not reach those heights for 40-50 years. It may take two or three generations, but the Lord will raise up a new church centered in the good that will stand as the wind and waves turn against us:
  • Denominational lines will fall-- believers in Jesus will see that the space between us (no matter how much we disagree) is not even close to as large as the chasm between us and the world. God who made us, Christ who saved us, and the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through the Scriptures binds us into one living Body.
  • Jesus Christ lives-- we are not promoting a dead ideology, or simply acting as curators in a museum of what Christ has done. He is still doing it-- and where Christ lives, there is liberty. Free men and women will come together to witness-- and to suffer for that witness.
  • Privilege is a comfortable prison-- but a prison nonetheless. Perhaps, when those who follow look back, they will give thanks that we were expelled.

Thankfulness for suffering always rings false, or crazy. But crazy times call for crazy responses. Perhaps what is happening to us, which comes from the hand of God, is good-- even in its sufferings. For Fred Winters's wife and kids, and for the people of First Baptist Church in Maryville, ILL I hope and pray that it is, and will be.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Following Jesus

Now that 50 doesn't seem so old, it's interesting to look back and see where Christ has led me. If you would have told me the story of my life 30 years ago, I would have told you you were crazy. So many of the most important relationships in my life just began-- no seeking, no analysis, no understanding-- just WHAM! Here's your wife. WHAM! Here's your brother. WHAM! Here's your calling. My life is a pinball hitting the bumpers-- and when I hit, I go all the way to TILT.

So, I'm off on a new (old) trajectory, asking questions and suggesting answers that seem to bother a lot of people older than I am. I see a mission field that is desperately in need of Christ's love, God's redemption, and the Holy Spirit's direction through the Word, and I see those who claim to have meeting that need as their purpose getting their kicks from kicking each other, pointing out each other's weaknesses and taking their ability to criticize the other's weakness as a demonstration of God's strength.

I see children, now not just one or two, but five or ten or fifteen, with no one in their corner-- no one who will help them learn, no one who cares when they fall, too many of them with no one who feeds them physical food, much less emotional or spiritual food. And all the adults are on diets.

I see a culture, a church, obsessed with entertainment and distraction while we send young men and women to die for us, we allow the state to kill for us, we watch as we kill ourselves with booze and pills, and babies unborn never see the light of day. Death is all around us, but we are too busy playing to pay attention, much less to see what we can do to alleviate the suffering, much less to sacrifice, to die for another. "Greater love hath no man than this...." Where is that greater love?

Where is it in the Church? Is that greater love in Robert's Rules? Is it in our debates? Is it in our fine buildings filled with good people who are afraid of the little one who hasn't had a bath in a week, or the man who is strung out? Each of us called by Christ has a purpose-- a mission, and that mission will never involve gold dust and a spot light. Follow Jesus and you will end up in cold, dark, desperate places-- that's where the need is.

My mission at the moment seems to be to find someone who thinks I'm an idiot for opposing Amendment 08B, and to love them. Yours may be to find someone who is a banana peel away from the edge of death, and to love them into life. But following Jesus doesn't keep your fingernails clean. Service for Jesus doesn't leave you laughing and relaxed, saying, "that was a good show." Loving Jesus means that I am ready to be emptied, not to be filled-- to understand, not to be understood-- to love, not to be loved.

So the voting, the posturing, and the positioning go on; they will always be with us. Follow Jesus, and don't be afraid of what the posers think-- follow Jesus into the places and to the people you fear, and watch Him wipe away your fears as He dries their tears. There is work to be done. Let's get to lovin'.